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The Spike

Glow Tonic

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An entire bucket of this only costs £18

Probably the best purchase I have made in the last month – not including all the other shit that I also love – has been a large bottle of Glow Tonic.

I am so, so so, weary when it comes to “miracle” skin products. I feel like some sort of old hack leaning against a bar in Havana smoking a fag, three rums down, saying to someone fresh of the seaplane “Just file your copy and hit the bar… don’t try to be a hero.” Or something.

Because they basically almost never work. Except Creme de la Mer, that works – but one has to sell one’s house and car and children to afford 50ml, which is inconvenient. But nothing else really works. Not really.

Except this. It’s mild glycolic acid (5%) which you apply it to your face with cotton wool as often as you want and just sort of tidies it up. Your face will look like your kitchen in the five minutes after the cleaner’s been.

It will not make you look like Alicia Vikander any more than your cleaner will give you a Poggenpohl kitchen, but it will – if you have remotely congested or “dull” skin, really improve matters.

Gwyneth made me buy it

I know, isn’t Goop just hilarious? Just the… madness of the whole thing.

But what I admire and respect most about the enterprise is that Gwyneth is undaunted. She doesn’t care when online gossip sites report that Goop is a massive loss-maker, or that we all want to make fun of her for trying to sell us in-flight “wellness” packs for north of £100, or that her fashion picks are always staggeringly expensive. Even the T-shirts! Even a can opener is $68.

She just sails on, regardless. It’s admirable really.

And in the end it’s just a fact that I have picked up probably the most useful piece of dressing advice ever from her, which was that a grey, fine-knit sweater will take you pretty much anywhere. First day of your period on the school run? Grey sweater. Sunday brunch? Grey sweater. Smart/casual dinner party? Grey sweater.

It’s got to be the right grey sweater. A chunky pilled horror (we’ve all got one) won’t do. It’s got to be a fine-knit merino wool job, as merino wool doesn’t form pills, worn loose and drapey. But not so drapey that you have batwings.

I have a J Crew Tippi in grey, which is beautiful but comes up rather short, which means I have to wear a longer vest underneath, which rather breaks up the line and spoils the effect.

Everyone always bangs on about Uniqlo knitwear and I have been a bit circumspect about it because I never think that something that cheap can be good. BUT… I went in the other day and tried on one of their Extra Fine Merino Wool Crew Neck sweaters and I was totally won over. I got mine in an XL for full drapeyness and comfort and do not regret it. Well, not for now anyway – we’ll see how it stands the test of time.

Service update

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I owe you an apology!! I wrote a few weeks ago about new white jeans – i.e. wearing white jeans in a boyfriend cut to take advantage of the glorious summery-ness without the strangulation and/or potential health effects of tight trousers plus warm weather.

I recommended Gap “girlfriend” jeans in white without actually trying them on, which I knew at the time was a bit naughty. But I have a pair of blue denim jeans in this style and they are terrific so I thought it was safe to assume that this cut in white would be great.

They are not great. I tried them on finally in a shop just to make sure – and it was one of those what-kind-of-shaped-person-can-these-possibly-be-designed for?? moments.

And, worse, a reader bought them on my recommendation and had to take them back! This is really bad.

Anyway I have deleted the previous post so as not to lead anyone else astray and then I went on a hunt for a good pair of boyfriend cut jeans in white, specifically without rips because I want you to be able to wear these to a smart-ish event with a natty blazer and some cute shoes.

I tried a brand called “AG”, which were £235 that weren’t right for some reason – I can’t remember why. But thank god, right? Because then I would have to have bought them.

Then a pair from the Outnet, which were Marc by Marc Jacobs and only about £50 – they were too wide and too high-waisted.

Then one pair from Baujken, £99, and one pair from H&M, £24.99, which described themselves as “straight, cropped” jeans.

These are very good and almost identical in all respects to the Baujken pair but £70 cheaper. I got them in a size 16 for a manufactured “relaxed” fit as they were not strictly a boyfriend cut and it totally works.

Now… I had been looking for a pair of such jeans in H&M for a while but only found this pair in the High Street Kensington branch. I can’t find the exact one online – such is the way with H&M. The ones above are the closest I can find although mine are not frayed at the bottom. I note that online H&M also have a “relaxed fit” jean, which might be super.

Anyway, in fact I don’t think too many of you are going to dive into this look but if you were gripped by a sudden pash for a boyfriend fit white jean (no rips) and can be bothered you could do worse than order a clutch from H&M and see how you get on.

Morning!

Sleep, part 3. Or is it 4?

Little Sam sleeps now, pretty much. Down and out by 7.15pm, very occasionally up in the night but mostly not.

But then… then… up at 6am. Sometimes 5.30. It’s possibly a phase, or just the summer, I don’t know. But it’s always early and has been like that for a while.

He will not play in his room on his own. He will not go downstairs on his own. He does not give. A. Shit who he wakes up if someone will not sit with him or go downstairs with him and he is forced (in his eyes) to have a massive tantrum.

I’ve tried the Gro-Clock. I’ve tried arguing, I’ve tried pleading, I’ve tried bribes. I’ve tried putting him to bed later.

Despite all of this, he gets up at 6am and someone has to get up with him.

But who? Once upon a time, when Sam was awake all freaking night, Giles would always get up with him, it was only fair. Plus, all his buggering about at night meant he often slept until 7am or later.

But now we both get to sleep, and yet Sam is up early, so who gets up? Whomsoever is doing the most getting-up, doing the majority of the tedious 6am – 8am shift might feel the warm glow of martyrdom about them for a while, but it always turns nasty in the end.

We’d never talked about it, never ever once said the words “It’s your turn.” We just wordlessly sorted it out at the time and then hurled the facts of the matter back at each other during a row about something else.

It had to stop.

I want, I said to my husband, to talk to you about Sam getting up in the morning. Giles leaned back in his chair with the look on his face that an Alsatian gets just before it bites the head off a toddler.

I explained about the having tried everything, about how depressing I found the cajoling and the threats and the fighting for just ten more minutes in bed at 6am. It was just such a sad and horrible start to the day. I was done with it, I wanted my first moments of the day to be determined and positive, not fraught, anxious, angry.

My conclusion was that we just had to get up and deal with it. And in order for no-one to go insane, we’d have to take it in turns.

I always imagine that other couples do this; that chores and childcare are shared evenly in this way, no matter who earns more money or has the “harder” life, but I’m not sure they do.

A conversation with my friend A- revealed that although she and her husband are both high-achieving, hard workers, both with demanding jobs, both bringing down serious money, both in demand and major league – they, too struggled to find equilibrium in the domestic sphere.

Their son shared many qualities with Sam when he was younger – high energy, not scared of confrontation, not a terrific sleeper, an early waker.

“We would always get up in the morning together, said A-,” looking sympathetic. “Neither of us could bear to cede the brownie points to each other.” Not even for sleep!

So I put all this to Giles, with the caveats that no-one had to be a massive dickhead about the “turn”, that it was all up for negotiation from time to time. And he agreed to it! And I thought – fucking hell, we ought to have had this conversation about six years ago.

Mush

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Sarah Hesz (left) and Katie Massie-Taylor

Having a first baby, as I did in 2011, well before smartphones were commonplace, meant I might as well have been in the middle ages.

The post-industrial atomisation of society was at its apex that year – we lived our solitary lives side by side. There was, for me, no society, no community. The word “loneliness” doesn’t even come close. It was catastrophic.

Where, I would think to myself, are all the other bloody mums? Have I done this in a fucking vacuum? (As it turns out, I sort of had – my scientific knowledge now of the exact whereabouts of Kitty’s peers concludes that there are scant six year-olds within a walking radius of my house.) My NCT group were okay but all lived a car-ride away. What fucking use is that?

But now all I see everywhere I go are mums and babies. All together. Not side-by-side not talking because they’ve given up starting conversations because the other mum will only be Finnish or a vegan or about to go back to work (sorry). They’re all together, complaining ferociously – as they ought to be. Don’t get me wrong, I would no more want to be back there than I would want to be about to re-sit my A Levels BUT I am still envious of their cosy groups and Insta-mummies to give them thinspiration and clothing advice.

It’s smart phones that have done it. Moan about them all you like but they bring online and off-line communities together, physically, in one space, which is something you need with babies and small children. You need to get out of the house, you need to talk to another adult, IRL. I met my dear friend Annie Kelly on Twitter who lives round the corner from me but that was by accident.

The literal embodiment of this is the app Mush, the brainchild of two mums (obv) who met in a windy playground one day and, some time later, went: let’s do Tinder for mums. You make a profile – adding such salient details as I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH or I’M GOING BACK TO WORK NEXT TUESDAY, put in your location and wait for the invitations to stay-and-play roll in.

I was very kindly invited to Mush’s first birthday party last week, but couldn’t go. So instead I asked one of the founders, Sarah Hesz, some questions over email, and she replied below. Of course if she were on Mush I would be circumspect as to being her friend as she has no interest in cooking (all I talk about) and wants to have a third child (INSANIA!) Also see ridiculously kind answer to “my kids are…”, which I would have completed “karmic retribution for sins in a former life” Perhaps that shite attitude is the reason I have had no friends.

1 When did you first meet Katie in that windy playground?

We had just had our second babies – November 2014
2 How soon after meeting did you take your first step to creating Mush?
After we’d come out of the newborn fug…Spring 2015 I think.
3 Can you give me some boasty figures? i.e. how many users, in what areas of the country…
We have 120k mums who have used the app and over 300k friendships have been made. We have users all over the UK as well as in Australia. This weekend we have our US launch in LA.
4 What was it like meeting the Duchess of Cambridge? 
She was really lovely. I was a bit over-excited, basically just said words at her and she smiled and nodded and pretended kindly I was making sense. Two things, wow, she walks well in heels and also, she’s still a normal mum, she knows how disgustingly grotty kids are – and that really is a leveller. 
5 Tell me some of the things your Mush users say to you about how the app has changed life for them
We have so many lovely emails from mums saving that Mush has been a lifeline and transformed their mat leave. The other day we were talking loudly about work in a coffee shop and a gorgeous mum came over to us and told us how she’d adopted her baby; because she’d had no antenatal classes she’d relied completely on Mush to make her local gang of mum friends. She was so grateful and a bit emotional about it all. That made our year.
6 What are you having for dinner tonight?
I’m afraid I have zero interest in cooking. Probably salad and then chocolate buttons.
7 What’s the last item of clothing you bought that you were excited about?
And Other Stories silk shirts – I bought 3 in different patterns to wear with jeans. They make me happy and don’t require ironing. 
8 Are you going to have a third?
I’d like to.
9 Complete this sentence: My kids are…. really excellent at dinosaur impressions.

Blossom & Bow

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8-kid Superkids birthday party box, £70.

I have always gone totally over the top with Kitty’s birthday parties, because I thought I ought to. She did in fact enjoy them, so it was fine. But I didn’t. Not really. Even though we had a truly wonderful entertainer who I genuinely now consider to be a friend and nothing went wrong and all the kids seemed to enjoy it, I didn’t.

So the last birthday party, her sixth, was the last. Next year, she can have a film party or a pottery party or a horse riding party or something. Not an entertainer and games and a sit-down birthday tea. It’s just such a nightmare.

Sam had a small party when he was one and didn’t know any better – but it turns out that he doesn’t really like parties. He doesn’t like crowds or noise – he’d be a totally crap police horse – doesn’t want to go to a party or have his own.

So instead I organise for him a massive blow-out birthday breakfast with helium balloons, (you can buy a helium canister from Amazon or Argos and fill them yourself, it’s very satisfying), proper tablecloth, presents, cards and whatever he wants for breakfast; boiled eggs are usually his dream meal at any time of day.

Then I pack him off to nursery with a giant cake, everyone fusses over him there and they sing Happy Birthday to Sam and every gets a slice of choccy sponge and as far as he’s concerned, that’s the best birthday he could possibly ask for.

So that is a done deal and I do hope I will get away with that until he asks for an actual birthday party, by which time with any luck he can have a small party themed to one of his favourite things, like cricket or monster trucks or swimming or sitting on the sofa picking his nose watching CBeebies.

I have in the past decorated the sacred birthday breakfast table with stuff from Party Pieces – just everything in blue or blue and white.

But then a company called Blossom and Bow got in touch with me; they do extremely cute themed birthday party kits so I struggled briefly with my no freebies rule and grudgingly (willingly) let them send me an 8 person “Superkids” party kit for Sam, whose birthday it is on Saturday.

He has only just discovered Superman so he will be totally delighted with this.

Other themes available are “Over the Rainbow” “Ahoy there” “As Cold as Ice” “Once Upon a Time” and “Jurassic”. All tasteful as hell.

B&B are also planning a festival theme, a forest forage theme and a space theme, coming later this year, to cover all interest eventualities and strictly gender-neutral, which is fine by me.

 

 

Cheap bag love

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Zara, £19.99

I have a rule about no cheap bags or shoes. And no fakes. When you have a problem with “stuff”, like I do, very quickly you can just have way, way, way too much. And then you have to confront the fact that you buy things because you are mental, and that’s not nice. There is enough evidence that I’m mental without it physically cluttering up the place, too.

So my rule is no cheap bags – nothing under £500 – and no cheap shoes – nothing much under £100. Then you don’t really buy anything because your husband will notice you can’t afford it. And you make do with what you have, which is how it ought to be.

This doesn’t apply to clothes, because clothes have to fit and suit you, which cancels out quite a lot of them. But bags and shoes – fuck it! Who can’t fit into a bag? Or a shoe? What bag “doesn’t suit” you?

But today I made an exception for a Zara bag, which has been on my mind for 3 months. “I mustn’t buy it,” I kept saying, despite it being a) perfect, a Mansur Gavriel-ish bucket in  in a Celine yellow and b) only £20 – NO-ONE SAY SWEAT SHOP!! – because of my no cheap bags rule.

But then I was in Zara – I just kind of came to in there, it happens a lot – and I saw a girl taking the bags down off the shelf and I said “What are you doing! What are you doing!” and she said “Oh, this is old stock, I’m just moving it to the back,” and I said “No wait wait I’ll just… take… this one….” and zoinked it out of her hand and bought it, panting.

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Mansur Gavriel. Beaut.

I love my cheap bag so much. I love it with the kind of spleeny jolt that happens when one of my kids looks at me with their bright little beady, birdy eyes and no-one has been a little shit for about half an hour and they’re looking at me and then they smile and then wave and go “Hi mum.”

I love this bag that much. And for that kind of love, rules can be broken.

 

Hampton Canvas

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£25 each

“Can we send you some shoes to say thank you for your kind coverage of Trotters?” said Trotters.

“Oh no,” I said. “Thank you so much, but I don’t take freebies.”

“Oh go on,” they said.

“OKAY YES I WILL HAVE SOME FREE SHOES THANK YOU”.

And here they are!! But only for the kids, you understand. I got none for myself, to sort of balance out the moral quandary of taking freebies.

I’m so not a millennial neither in fact nor in attitude.

Hampton Canvas are a range of shoes that used to be sold only in Trotters stores or on the Trotters website, but they are so popular that Trotters have given the shoe their own website, which is here.

Next-eldest sister always used to deck her kids out in HC and every time I said “God where did you get those cute posh little plimsolls for the boys?” and she said “Trotters” and I went “Ugh but it’s in Chelsea, I never go to Chelsea.” Then I noticed them more and more on other people’s kids – they always looked so cute, chic and yet practical. And yet… there was always that journey to Chelsea, or the rather unknowable task of buying childrens’ shoes online that got in the way – plus they were very often completely sold out.

I particularly like the “Nantucket” which has a Mary-Jane style strap but Kitty picked out the bright pink pair, naturally, and Sam vaguely stabbed at the screen and went “Dose,” at what I took to be the navy blue ones.

Of course, my children have got such weird-shaped feet, (Sam’s are square and Kitty’s are long and slim like wading bird), that they might not technically fit, but I will just cut holes in the relevant places and stuff newspaper down the sides so that they can wear them anyway.

Tan 2017

Last year I used Clarins’ impossibly-named Golden Glow Booster to dye my legs the requisite brown colour I regard as being socially acceptable. This year I have switched back to the St Tropez Gradual Tan mousse because… well, I’m actually wondering why.

The Clarins stuff was good, you add a few drops to your normal moisturiser, mix it in, spread it on, rub in and off you go. But there was something about the mixing in, the drops… it felt messy and unappealing by late August.

I recall thinking back fondly to the supremely user-friendliness of the St Tropez mousse. It is a white mousse that won’t stain your entire house brown, you can do it without needing gloves – (are you listening, James Read?) – and it dries in about half a minute and you can get dressed and scamper off.

So I went to Superdrug last week and bought myself a can and slapped it about with relish.

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About £9

Of course, for times when you need brown legs RIGHT NOW because a few hundred people have died and so you suddenly get an invitation to the opening party for The Ned tonight, Lancome’s Flash bronzer for legs is good, although you have to be careful about brown rub-off and it smells pretty strong. It has tiny little gold sparkles in it, which is quite Seventies and rather now.

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About £28

 

And I hear great things about Perfect Legs Skin Miracle, (which always makes me think of that bar in East London called Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes), from This Works. Anyone tried that? I think it gives you a brownish sheen immediately, which transforms into an actual chemical-reaction tan over time.

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About £37, so it had BETTER be a freaking miracle…

 

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